Greenpeace Russia strongly disagrees with the charges against the nature reserve employees.
On July 15, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk City Court found employees of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve guilty of embezzlement in the amount of  million rubles [approx. 7.9 million euros]. The money had been allocated from the federal budget to eliminate accumulated environmental damage.
Darya Panicheva, head of the reserve’s scientific department, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. The court sentenced Roman Korchigin, deputy director for science and educational tourism, to five years in prison. Oksana Terekhova, deputy director for financial and legal support, was sentenced to five years and six months in prison. Nikolai Pozdnyakov, a former employee of the reserve, was also convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. All of them were taken into police custody in the courtroom.
The court also sentenced all the convicted persons to compensate in full the financial damage indicated in the charges and to pay large fines.
None of the reserve employees of the reserve has admitted any wrongdoing. The defense will petition a higher court to review the verdict, seeking to have the charges completely dropped and obtain an acquittal.
The director of the Kronotsky Reserve, Pyotr Shpilenok, commented on the court’s decision.
“I’m in shock,” he said. “Innocent employees have been taken into custody for doing their official duties. We will continue to fight on their behalf — otherwise we wouldn’t know how to go on living and working. There is now only one recourse for us — to go to higher courts and seek the complete dismissal of charges against them. In addition, the reserve is now literally in a state of emergency: it won’t be able to function as before without these key employees. The specialists sent to prison were responsible for the most important areas of work: science, tourism, and economic support. Kronotsky will now have to urgently make some difficult decisions to keep nature protected.”
The Kronotsky Reserve employees were charged with embezzling over 454 million rubles from the federal budget and being involved in an organized criminal group. The money was earmarked for and spent on cleaning up the reserve and eliminating accumulated environmental damage. The Investigative Committee, however, believes that this money was stolen. On June 27, the prosecution requested that the court sentence the accused reserve employees to six to eight years of imprisonment, multimillion-ruble fines, and overall damages of 454.6 million rubles.
The charges caused a massive public outcry, and the trial came to be called the “Clean-Up Case.” The team at the Kronotsky Reserve publicly posted materials that testify to the innocence of the reserve’s employees: paperwork, photos and video footage, witness statements, and official findings by scientific institutions, Rosprirodnadzor, and the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. They clearly show that there are many discrepancies in the case.
“I personally know the accused reserve employees and can confirm that they are some of the best and most dedicated specialists in the reserve system,” saysMikhail Kreindlin, project manager for specially protected natural areas at Greenpeace Russia. “Basically, the employees are accused of conscientiously and competently performing their work in assessing the damage caused to the reserve earlier, while the investigation is trying to prove the existence of an organized criminal group by pointing to the organizational structure of the institution that manages the reserve.”
Greenpeace Russia considers the sentence imposed on the employees of the Kronotsky Reserve unfair. Over years of cooperation, the reserve employees have proven themselves to be exceptionally honest and professional people, dedicated to their work.
Violetta Ryabko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s media department
“Better not open the refrigerator: I brought back radioactive mushrooms from Bryansk Region for analysis!” Rashid once said. I remember how, at the office, I had voiced my desire to go picking mushrooms, and Rashid replied, “Brilliant! We need to make a map of where the radioactive mushrooms near Petersburg are, and where it is better not to pick them.”
Rashid had so much energy and desire to solve the environmental problems he was dealing with. He could spend days and nights reading thousands of pages of reports to find the truth, as he did with the 2017 ruthenium leak, whose cause was revealed to the world by Rashid. He knew how not to give into despair and write about each new attempt to import uranium tailings into Russia. He was attentive to every detail, word, and comma in the materials that we prepared. We wrote a lot of releases together, fought against the construction of a waste incinerator, and issued a brochure that is still used by activists all over the country. It was never just a job. We supported each other, made each other laugh, and figured out how not to burn out and maintain our enthusiasm, even when things didn’t work out.
I remember how once Rashid was trying to obtain a official report from yet another Russian ministry. (I forgot which one, and there is no one else to ask.) His latest request was sent back with something like the following runaround from a ministry secretary: “Lyudmila Petrovna would be very dissatisfied were these data published.” Rashid said that he had no idea who Lyudmila Petrovna was, and could not understand why the data that the ministry was required to send by law had not been provided. He then looked at me enigmatically and asked, “What’s your middle name?” He dashed off the following email: “Violetta Vladimirovna is extremely concerned that the documents have not been sent on time and promises to take immediate action.” We had the documents the next day.
But not everyone was so honest. I remember receiving a message from him: “Guess who might be the subject of article entitled ‘A Story of Ordinary Fascism’?” It was a disgraceful, slanderous article about Rashid on the website of pseudo-environmentalists. Later, television presenter Vladimir Solovyov took to the air to say that, while he had been unable to find any compromising material on Rashid, he had learned that Rashid had graduated from the faculty of Oriental studies at Petersburg State University. Rashid really did speak several languages perfectly, which only aided him in becoming a brilliant expert and doing research in a variety of languages.
I remember how I was angry at Rashid for something stupid and wrote a message about it to a colleague, but ultimately I accidentally sent it to Rashid himself. He read it and thanked me. I was so ashamed and amused, and later we would remember this story and laugh. He was such a wonderful, intelligent man. I don’t believe I’m writing about him in the past tense.
Alexei Kiselyov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxic waste program
I would start with the fact that Rashid is the person whom we have to thank for the fact that garbage is not burned in Petersburg. He also made sure that public hearings on the proposed incineration plant in Petersburg were canceled, the investor bailed, and the governor rejected the project.
Rashid Alimov (center, standing) at public hearings on the proposed construction of a solid waste incineration plant in St. Petersburg
Kostya Fomin, media coordinator at OVD Info, former media coordinator at Greenpeace Russia
Rashid was the person with whom I seemingly found it easiest to get along at Greenpeace. At first glance, he was calm, intelligent, and even quiet, but he was terribly in love with his work, purposeful, and assertive. He was never an anti-nuclear fanatic. On the contrary, he always advocated careful, sensitive language. But he was a staunch opponent of dangerous technologies that had misfired many times, ruined people’s lives, and poisoned everything in sight for many years to come. He was a genuine old-school Greenpeace activist.
He was irrepressible in a good way and took on seemingly doomed cases. Not always, but not so rarely, either, he got good results, and I am very glad that I was able be with him at those moments and help in any way I could. I remember how he told me about Petersburg poets and revolutionaries as we walked along the embankment, and boatloads of Greenpeace activists sailed toward a floating nuclear power plant: in the end we made sure that its reactors were not activated in Petersburg, a city of five million people. I remember how a guard at a hospital in Arkhangelsk tried to detain us as we measured the background radiation in the yard, where bags of corpses had been piled after the incident in Nenoksa. I remember how we drew a bucket of water from the radioactive Techa River, in Chelyabinsk Region, to prove that people from the surrounding villages were still in danger. I remember how we spent all day and half the night negotiating a press release reporting that Roshydromet recognized that ten of its weather stations had recorded extreme levels of ruthenium in the atmosphere, and in the morning at the airport, I heard our words repeated on REN TV.
Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that exactly a year ago, Rashid and I had been together too. Activists opposed to the import of uranium tailings to Russia set up barrels marked with radiation danger signs outside Gostiny Dvor, in downtown Petersburg, and Rashid had stood next to them holding a poster. No one was detained, and we celebrated the successful protest at a bar. But when Rashid went home, he telephoned to say that a whole squad of police had caught up with him at the front door of his house. Why the front door? Because they had tried to trick their way into his house, but Rashid’s daughter wouldn’t let them in, and the whole ridiculous “tactical team” had to freeze to death. My friends and I thought that Rashid had raised his daughter well. We’ll all miss you.
Vladimir Chuprov, project director, Greenpeace Russia
I spent a long time forcing myself to start writing these lines. I couldn’t even imagine that I would have to do this. I don’t want to say anything trivial: Rashid, of course, deserves more. Such blows make you stop and think about how fleeting life is, and how important it is to appreciate each other here and now, in this life. Rashid knew how to do it. With a kind of incomprehensible oriental inner contemplation, he would calmly accept the most unpleasant news and difficult tasks. He would shrug, hunch his shoulders more than usual, and start listening. Being able to hear means being able to hear life, to halt its quiet elusive moments, even if they are compressed in a telephone receiver’s silence.
Reproaches and complaints to others were all things that Rashid somehow knew how to avoid. Or they bypassed him. Sometimes, I would get mad at something or someone, then I would look at how Rashid reacted to it, and realize that it was all a passing trifle. The nuclear power issue has always been difficult and in many ways thankless, since it is almost impossible to help people affected by radiation: the forces are too unequal, and the inhuman system that Rashid struggled with is too clumsy. But it was Rashid who managed to work calmly in the face of this abyss of grief and powerlessness and give people hope.
I am grateful that I was able to work with Rashid for many years and, most importantly, that I was able to communicate with him in his final days. He conversed with me cheerfully and humorously as always, the way he knew how. It is a pity that Rashid did not live to see what he fought for: a harmonious green world without landfills and smog. May the atheists forgive me when I say this, but although we shall not see Rashid, Rashid will listen to us just as calmly tomorrow and the day after. One day I will tell him how he did it. Just wait, Rashid.
Yevgeny Usov, investigative research and expertise specialist, Greenpeace Russia
Rashid and I first became closely acquainted many years ago while inspecting an illegal landfill in the Kingisepp District, where I filmed an interview with him for television. Then there were trips with him to attend a rally in Pushkin and sample radioactivity in Bryansk Region, expert work for the Presidential Human Rights Council and air quality research in Petersburg, long conversations about various matters and editing international reports.
Calm, reasonable, and interested in many different and surprising subjects—that was Rashid. He did many extremely important things for Russia.
Rashid measured the concentration of solid particles outside the window, the level of radiation in the mushrooms picked by his grandmother, was involved in the blockade of a German train, loaded with radioactive waste, going to Russia, investigated the true size of the country’s mountains of industrial waste, and dug up the truth and helped the truth make its way to people.
Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair, Ecodefense
I met Rashid about fifteen years ago when Ecodefense organized a campaign against the importation of uranium tailings. He was a journalist. In 2007, he joined the campaign and organized protests in Petersburg, where uranium waste was delivered by sea. By 2009, we had managed to stop the import of tailings from Germany, and Rashid made a huge contribution to this victory. Later, we interacted a lot in various campaigns against dangerous nuclear projects.
Rashid was one of the most important people in the Russian anti-nuclear movement. An uncompromising activist, he always adhered to the principle of protecting the public interest come what may. Last year and this year, we corroborated a lot as part of a new campaign against the import of uranium tailings from Germany: we organized a number of protests in Russia and Germany, and, in the end, Germany decided to temporarily suspend this activity. I am certain that Ecodefense and other organizations that were involved in the campaign will continue to fight if the imports are resumed—not only for the sake of preventing harm, but also in memory of Rashid. He would have liked that.
Rashid’s family, as well as the environmental movement in Russia, have suffered an irreparable loss. There is no way to compensate for it. We will remember Rashid as a man who made a huge contribution to the fight against dangerous nuclear projects in Russia and other countries, as a great friend and knowledgeable colleague. It is impossible to repair what has happened, but the memory of our beloved friend Rashid will live on, and we will continue to do what we did with him and in his memory.
Elena Sakirko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department
When I became part of the Greenpeace team, Rashid was almost the first person I met. That was when thirty of our colleagues were in the Murmansk pre-trial detention center and a support group was organized in the city. We had to work with lawyers and journalists, and also get letters, food, and clothes (everything they needed) to the detained activists . I was the translator, and Rashid organized the deliveries. Working almost around the clock, we still found time to communicate. Rashid talked about Greenpeace and environmental protection in Russia: it seemed that he knew everything and was acquainted with all the activists and experts.
From the very first day, Rashid radiation so much warmth and attention, so much patience and endurance, that I just wanted to be as brave and calm, as well-versed in environmental issues as him. Another quality of his that saved me was his amazing sense of humor, his ability in the most difficult situations to look deeply and see what mattered the most. And there was his constant willingness to help. The Murmansk period and the case of the so-called Arctic 30 came to an end—all the activists were released and returned to their homes—but the most important thing about Greenpeace for me seems to reside in the calmness, kindness and courage of Rashid, something that put me in touch then with environmental protection.
Then there was my first picket, in which I stood with Rashid on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. There were also collaborations and projects where we did not intersect, but every time I went to Petersburg, I knew exactly who I wanted to see and with whom I could discuss all my difficulties and problems, who could take me on interesting walks in the city and tell me so much. I think people like Rashid just cannot disappear, they have so much energy and goodness that they shared with us—a whole world.
Rashid had his life’s work to do: regardless of the projects he was involved in, the most important thing for him was always radiation safety. I think it’s very important to continue this work.
Environmentalist and Activist Rashid Alimov Has Died Activatica
December 18, 2020
Rashid Alimov, an environmentalist, anti-nuclear and climate activist, and project manager of Greenpeace Russia’s energy program, died last night. His death was reported to his wife Olga Krivonos by the doctor on duty at the intensive care unit of the hospital in St. Petersburg where Rashid was being treated for complications of the coronavirus.
Exactly a year ago, on December 17, 20198, Rashid Alimov held a protest action entitled “Russia Is Not a Nuclear Dump” on Nevsky Prospekt outside of Gostiny Dvor. Alimov stood with a banner reading “Russia is not a nuclear dump” at the central entrance to the Gostiny Dvor shopping center. Behind him were activists eleven metal barrels painted with the radioactive danger sign and letters forming inscription “Happy New Year.”
Alimov had worked in environmental organizations since 2001. He was the author and editor of numerous publications on environmental issues, including radiation safety. From 2005 to 2011, he led a campaign in Petersburg against the import of depleted uranium hexafluoride into Russia, as well as the construction of new nuclear power plants. He was involved in Below Two Degrees, a bulletin issued by Russian observers at the UN climate talks.
“Rashid was involved in dealing with issues of waste management, air pollution and nuclear energy. He helped close several landfills, and thanks to Rashid’s work, public hearings on a planned trash incinerator in St. Petersburg were canceled and the governor abandoned the project. Rashid wrote a pamphlet, “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia”, which is still used by thousands of activists throughout the country,” Greenpeace Russia wrote in its obituary.
News about the forest fires in Russia appears in our news feeds less and less frequently, but the problem has not gone away. Today, August 9, the peak of the forest fires was recorded, and yet firefighters are battling the blazes in only seven percent of the affected areas. We have to deal with his problem not only by taking emergency measures but also by engaging in year-round prevention. Volunteer forest fighters tell children and adults about the fires and help extinguish outbreaks at the early stages. But they lack money for training and doing their jobs.
All the money raised when people listen to this track on streaming services will go to purchase backpack pumps, spray guns, and navigators. It will also cover other vital expenditures in Greenpeace Russia’s campaign to combat fires in natural areas, including amending school textbooks, some of which have been found to give erroneous advice on extinguishing and preventing fires.
From August 16, the new track will be available on all other venues. As soon as we get the first stats on the number of listens, we will start helping out financially. Reports will be posted here and on other social networks.
On August 9, Valentin Tarabrin commented, “These fires are a cover-up for illegal deforestation. Millions of hectares are being cut down. Open Google Map and you will see nothing is left of Siberia. These fires are deliberate arson.”
Smoke from fires usually moves east or north, but this time it is moving west. Thus, the smoke has engulfed Siberian cities and has reached the Urals. The smell of burning is reported in the Volga Region and Tatarstan.
The wind that changed its direction is expected to bring the smoke to Kamchatka. It may even reach other continents across the ocean, which means it will become a planetary-scale disaster.
Kuksin believes that the smoke will continue to affect the region for a few more weeks. Heavy rain is needed to extinguish such a large fire, but no precipitation is expected.
The expert believes it necessary to reconsider the area of control and implement special measures to avoid similar situations in the future.
Why There Are So Many Forest Fires in Russia The scale and aftermath of the disasters are exacerbated by the consumerist mindset of authorities and the lack of resources in a weak economy
Vladimir Ruvinsky Vedomosti
July 29, 2019
Dense smoke from forest fires has covered cities in Siberia, the Urals, and the Volga region. The fires could have been dealt with at an early stage, but regional authorities avoid fighting fires when they can avoid it due to a lack of money and means.
According to Greenpeace Russia, the fires have encompassed over three million hectares of forest, an area comparable in size to Belgium. The total for the spring and summer of 2019 is eleven million hectares, an area larger than Portugal. During this century, 2003 and 2012 saw worse fire seasons, but Grigory Kuksin of Greenpeace Russia says the records set during those years will probably be beaten this week. Usually, the smoke from the fires drifts towards the sparsely populated east and north. This year, however, the fires have attracted more attention since the smoke has drifted westwards, towards Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, and Kazan.
The current fires are largely a consequence of decision-making by Russian authorities. More than 90% are the burning fires are located in so-called monitoring zones, areas where regional authorities may not fight fires if the expenditures on extinguishing exceed the damage they cause. This regulation was adopted in 2015 when Russian federal authorities basically legalized what had been an implicit rule during Soviet times. But the Soviet authorities had, in fact, fought fires in remote areas. Nowadays, regional governors are not officially obliged to fight them. They take advantage of this, especially because they lack money and equipment.
While Russia has lots of woodlands, its economy is too week to fight all forest fires. Kuksin argues that the gigantic monitoring zones could be decreased while increasing prevention measures and using available resources to better effect. Most fires are caused by people: they are mainly sparked when loggers burn residue wood in logging areas. Such fires could definitely be put out immediately, but local authorities have made a practice of refusing to fight them. They are the major cause of the biggest fires, which have turned into insoluble problems that only the rains can solve.
The way the authorities see things, the anticipated costs of putting out fires in the monitoring zones are always higher than the damage caused by them. The damage caused by forest fires is primarily calculated in terms of the minimum price of timber. This cost can be written off (and if not, there is no damage), i.e., forest fires often cost almost nothing in terms of official damages. However, as Konstantin Kobyakov, an environmentalist at WWF Russia, points outs, Russia loses three times more forest in fires annually (three million hectares) than the forest industry removes (one million hectares), meaning the country already faces a deficit of woodlands that will only keep growing.
Kuksin recalls that gas and oil industry infrastructure, such as pipelines, is located in the monitoring zones, and uncontrolled blazes are approaching hundreds of villages and small towns. Damage assessment does not account for air and water pollution or the real harm caused to people’s health by acrid smoke, which is harder to calculate but does considerably increase mortality. In addition, stable high-pressure systems have formed over the gigantic fire zone in Siberia, triggering abnormally heavy rains along the perimeter. The fires generate a lot of greenhouse gases and soot, which accelerates the melting of arctic ice and climate change, meaning they increase the risk of more fires in the future.
The EU Dangerous Substances Directive classifies methyl mercaptan as “very toxic.” Why has the Russian government increased its maximum allowable concentration in the air by sixty times? Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Russia Raises Limits for Airborne Toxic Chemicals Sixtyfold finanz.ru
February 19, 2019
The Russian Federal Sanitation and Epidemiology Service and national consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor have drastically raised the maximum allowable concentrations (MACs) of harmful substances in the air, including formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and methyl mercaptan, a chemical typically emitted by waste landfills.
The current MAC of methyl mercaptan in the air is sixty times higher than it was ten years ago and 660 times higher than it was in 1999, Greenpeace Russia has reported in a press release.
Moreover, the new MAC for methyl mercaptan exceeds the odor threshold by one and a half to three times, meaning the level at which people living near waste landfills can smell the substance.
Greenpeace Russia noted that the MACs of a number of other air pollutants were increased in 2014 and 2015, for example, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide.
According to the previous standards, about 50 million Russians lived in cities where formaldehyde concentrations had been exceeded. After the MACs were relaxed, the statistics “improved.” They now show, allegedly, that fewer cities are at risk, and only 20 million Russians may be affected by increased concentrations of carcinogens.
“However, according to assessments by Russian and international scientists, the risks presented by formaldehyde concentrations under the new, current guidelines correspond neither to the standards adopted by the Russian Federation nor common sense,” writes Greenpeace Russia, noting that phenol, formaldehyde, and methyl mercaptan are poisons. Constantly inhaling them increases toxicity in the body and reduces immunity.
“This is one of the factors contributing to a manifold increase of the incidence of flu and acute respiratory infections over the last twenty years,” Greenpeace Russia claimed in its press release.
As grounds for its decision to raise the MACs, Rospotrebnadzor refers to complex toxicological, sanitary, and epidemiological studies, as well as an analysis of international practices, but it refused to provide the specific research findings, Greenpeace Russia reported.
The Human Ecology and Environmental Hygiene Research Institute, which reports to Rospotrebnadzor, claimed no such research had been conducted whatsoever, and all it had provided to Rospotrebnadzor were background, reference materials. But even they were not taken into account when the decision was taken to increase the MACs for phenol and formaldehyde.
On February 18, Greenpeace Russia sent an open letter to the relevant committees in State Duma, the Russian Security Council, the Russian Health Ministry, the Russian Natural Resources Ministry, Rospotrebnadzor, and Rosprirodnadzor, the Russian natural resources watchdog. In the letter, Greenpeace Russia pointed out that the unwarranted changes to the sanitary norms jeopardized the implementation of the priority national environment and health projects.
Thanks to Julia Murashova and the Coalition to Defend Petersburg for the heads-up. See my previous entry, “Denis Stark: Welcome to the Clean Country,” on the topic of waste management in Russia. Translated by the Russian Reader
“A Project like This Is Impossible in Russia”: Why the Public Refrigerator Has Closed Forever The organizer of the first public refrigerator in Russia explains why European know-how did not catch on here
Julia Galkina The Village
November 16, 2016
The first public refrigerator opened on Sunday, November 13, in Petersburg, outside the Thank You! charity shop on Vasilyevsky Island. The organizers had hoped that all comers would put unwanted food in the refrigerator and freely taked it. The refrigerator operated for exactly one day. (Read Greenpeace’s report about what that looked like.) On Monday, November 14, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor sealed the refrigerator, explaining, “We welcome charity, but the present case concerns not items for the poor, but food products. With all due respect to the organizers, if food poisoning happens and someone gets hurts, Petersburgers will blame us.” On Tuesday, November 15, the organizers abandoned the idea and removed the refrigerator, remarking that “the project is not compatible with Russian legislation.” Now they “are looking for other forms of foodsharing offline.”
“As far as I know, the public refrigerators in European countries also work on the person-to-person system, the same way we wanted to organize it. The authorities there do not interfere with the work of such projects. In Russia, on the contrary, it didn’t take off, unfortunately.
“Thank You! was the only team in the city who agreed to try out the public refrigerator project with us. They made their porch available. We did all the prep work together, printing stickers and distributing adverts. It was a completely joint project. We did not vet anything with officials. We thought about it, but probably we counted on the good experience in western countries.
“People brought a lot of products—sweets, fruits, and so on—right at opening time. The refrigerator opened at twelve noon on Sunday, and Rospotrebnadzor sealed it on Monday around one-thirty in the afternoon. Even afterwards people came to pick up and bring food. As far as I know, they keep coming even now. They just leave it outside, and someone has picked it up a few minutes later.
“We had no restrictions. Anyone at all could bring and pick up food. Of course, many old women and old men came to get food. By the way, originally, the idea had been that the refrigerator would be used by people who could not get food through our group page on Vkontakte. Yet many old ladies said they were also willing to bring food themselves.
“I was ready for anything. That the refrigerator would be stolen, that it would break down, that the police and regulatory authorities would come. Rosprotrebnadzor’s visit upset me, of course, but I cannot say I was in shock or didn’t expect it. I tried to be mentally prepared for any outcome.
“Rospotrebnadzor told us that a public refrigerator was impossible in Russia. We could organize a cart to feed all comers or a public cafeteria, but not something in which anyone can donate products. So each volunteer would have to have the relevant papers. If you put pasties or jam in the refrigerator, show us your certificates listing the ingredients and how it was made, stored, and transported.
“Because our project is purely nonprofit (no money is involved), we would not be able to organize something big-scale like a cafeteria. For now, unfortunately, we have nopt come up with a way of doing an offline foodsharing project that would be legal and just as simple as the public refrigerator.
“I really liked the way people reacted well to the refrigerator. I think that matters more than what happened later. If the authorities had allowed us to put it there, but people had not understood the idea and been against it, it would have been much worse. So we just need to find the right form. People both young and old are ready for such a project.”
I don’t like environmentalists. Most of them are insane fanatics who have been victimized by terrorist organizations like Greenpeace. The sole purpose of such organizations is to troll big corporations and c0untries.
—Ilya Varlamov, popular Russian blogger, May 22, 2016
It Is Too Late to Put Out the Fires in the Far East and Eastern Siberia Greenpeace Russia
May 23, 2016
Greenpeace Russia and the federal fire detection system have discovered catastrophic fires in Amur Region, Transbaikal Territory, and Buryatia that cannot be extinguished, because the country simply lacks the manpower and resources to do it.
Here are the data from the Russian Federal Forestry Agency’s Distant Monitoring Information System (IDSM) for a single major fire underway in the Shimanovsk, Svobodny, and Blagoveshchensk Districts of Amur Region. According to ISDM, the fire covered an area of 248,000 hectares as of this morning.
“If current trends continue, 2016 could be the worst year for forest fires since the beginning of the twenty-first century, surpassing the figures for 2003 and 2012 in terms of the size of the forest fires,” says Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s forestry department.
The area of just one fire in Amur Region is thirteen times larger than the size of the fires listed in the official report for the region and four times larger than all fires reported by officials nationwide.
The size of the remaining fires is difficult to calculate. Smoke prevents satellites from recording hotspots, and experts from viewing burnt black forest. However, according to preliminary estimates, it is also already close to three million hectares. Amur Region accounts for approximately a third of this area, while the rest is roughly evenly divided between Buryatia and Transbaikal Territory.
“We have had problems with divergence [among reported figures] on the sizes [of the fires in] Amur Region, Buryatia, and Chelyabinsk Region, and there have been problems with Irkutsk Region” acknowledged Nikolai Krotov, deputy head of the Federal Forestry Agency. “We do not rule out the fact that political and subjective factors might exist, and information in one format or another is transmitted to the outside world in a different way.”
We should recall that Avialesokhrana’s reports are based on data sent to it by regional authorities.
Can nothing really be done?
Our country has been burning from year to year. Foresters do not have the resources and manpower to put out the fires, while officials do not have the resources and manpower to acknowledge the fires.
“The authority over forest management and firefighting that was transferred to the regions is at best subsidized by the federal budget at ten to twenty percent,” explains Yaroshenko.
Greenpeace Russia demands that foresters be allocated decent financing and released from unnecessary bureaucracy, and that lies about the fires be ended.
How do we calculate the size of fires?
To assess the size of current forest fires, Greenpeace uses MODIS and VIIRS satellite imagery and the FIRMS system for detecting hotspots throughout the entire life cycle of major forest fires. At the same time, Greenpeace follows State Standard (GOST) 17.6.1.01-83, according to which the area of a forest fire is defined as “the area within the contour of the forest fire where there is evidence of fire’s impact on vegetation,” and Paragraph 67 of the Rules for Fighting Forest Fires, which stipulates that “in cases when burning has resumed within five days in the extinguished sectors of a neutralized forest fire, the fire is deemed to have resumed.”
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. The paragraph highlighted in red, above, has been heavily altered to reflect the actual quotation from Kommersant newspaper article on which it was, allegedly, based.
Rosneft: “Greenpeace Are a Bunch of Corrupt Scum” NSN
March 18, 2016
Greenpeace said the oil company intends to “bite off” part of a future national park. A Rosneft vice-president responded harshly.
Greenpeace has called on Russians to defend a group of islands on Lake Ladoga from the oil company. In a communique received by NSN, Greenpeace claimed that at the behest of Alexander Hudilainen, head of the Republic of Karelia, the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources plans to transfer nearly 4,000 hectares of the future Ladoga Skerries National Park to the oil company. According to Novaya Gazeta [see translated article, below], Rosneft intends to build a health spa on islands in the protected area.
In an interview with NSN, Mikhail Leontyev, Rosneft’s vice-president for public relations, was categorical.
“Greenpeace are a bunch of corrupt scum. These are people who are paid to attack corporations. I have no desire to service their publicity machine. Spare me from them at least for a day, and better yet permanently,” Leontyev told NSN.
In its appeal to defend the Ladoga archipelago, with its unique Scandinavian landscape, Greenpeace claims the lands the authorities intend to exclude from the park are inhabited by golden eagles, which are on the endangered list, and that seals bask on the area’s shores in the summer.
Alexander Hudilainen has been readying especially valuable forests on the shores of Ladoga for investors
At the behest of the government of the Republic of Karelia, the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources is cutting nearly 4,000 hectares from the future Ladoga Skerries National Park for implementation of investment projects. It is believed that the principal interested parties are subsidiaries of Rosneft, which had previously announced plans to build a major health complex in the Ladoga area. The sale of lots included in the protected area, which has has already undergone an environmental impact statement, could theoretically produce a windfall for the republic’s budget, but in reality it would halt work on establishing the national park, which Vladimir Putin has personally asked to be expedited. A final decision on redrawing the national park’s boundaries is expected within the next week.
The Ladoga Skerries are located along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga in the Lahdenpohja, Sortavala, and Pitkäranta districts of the Republic of Karelia. A number of rocky islands and narrow straits form a unique picturesque landscape not found anywhere else in Russia. Many attempts have been made to preserve the natural environment in these parts, but for various reasons none of the projects for establishing a specially protected natural area has been implemented. Work on establishing a national park was renewed in 2007 amid massive public discontent over the leasing of lots in the skerries to logging and mining companies.
There was no sign of trouble even a month ago. On the contrary, people were confident that the years-long saga of establishing a Ladoga Skerries National Park (the first plans to create a protected area date back to 1989) was coming to a successful conclusion. On January 29, 2016, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources officially signed off on the findings of a official environmental impact analysis and due diligence review of the grounds for conferring the status of a federal specially protected natural area on the region. The next step should have been a Russian federal government decree establishing the park. But on February 15, a meeting was held at the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources where it was decided to exclude lots totaling approximately 3,750 hectares from the planned Ladoga Skerries National Park in order to accommodate the construction of so-called socially significant facilities. The initiative had come from the Karelian authorities or, rather, personally from head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Hudilainen, who had in fact made the request to the federal authorities.
Cutting to the quick
According to sources in the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, nearly all of Rautalahti Peninsula and Sammatsaari Island in the Sortavala District, which are part of the Ladoga Forestry Area, as well as several smaller lots in the Oppola and Helylä Forestry Areas, will be almost wholly removed from the nature reserve. Despite the fact that the total area of the planned reserve is over 120,000 hectares, of which approximately 40,000 hectares are water, while the rest is on forest reserves lands, such a loss would be extremely painful. According to Olga Ilyina, head of the Karelian environmental organization SPOK, during the planning stage, several large chunks of the park were cut out to avoid conflicts with local residents. A further reduction of the park’s area would make it impossible to effectively protect valuable natural sites.
“If you look at a map of the park you see it stretches along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga, and the excluded lots essentially split it into two unequal parts. Most importantly, the greater part of Rautalahti Peninsula is within the conservation area. It is one of most well preserved expanses of Ladoga forests and has high environmental value,” notes Ilyina. “Formally, the park will lose around 5% of its territory, but the already small size of its protected area would be reduced by nearly a third.”
Sabotage behind the scenes
Alexei Travin, coordinator of the NGO New Ecological Project, who joined the battle to save the Ladoga Skerries back in 2006, says that from the outset Karelian authorities opposed the idea of a national park and did whatever they could to sabotage the process of establishing it.
“Both under Sergei Katanandov and his successor as head of Karelia Andrei Nelidov, the process of preparing and approving paperwork was constantly delayed,” notes the environmentalist. “Positive developments have occurred only under pressure from the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.”
One of Alexander Hudilainen’s first steps as head of the republic in 2012 was submitting a request to the Russian federal government to establish a national park. (Without a submission from the local authorities it would have been impossible to launch the procedure for establishing a federal specially protected natural area.) According to Travin, however, there is good reason to suspect that the new head of the republic simply did not understand what he had signed back then, which was why one of the republic’s deputy natural resources ministers, who had drawn up the document for Hudilainen’s signature, was dismissed from his post. In 2012, President Putin asked the government to speed up work on Ladoga Skerries National Park and there was no longer any way for the Karelian authorities to back out. But this does not mean they had resigned themselves to the fact that the “golden lands” on the shore of Lake Ladoga had literally slipped through their fingers.
In the light of recent events it seems the Karelian authorities might have been using the process of establishing a national park to their own ends. Nearly all the lands along the shore of Lake Ladoga, including the islands, were leased in 2006 (on the eve of the transfer of powers over forests to the regions) at the behest of the then-current leadership of the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. In 2015, however, the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources in coordination with the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources had the courts terminate the leases on forest reserve lands in the Ladoga Skerries with the goal of establishing a federal specially protected natural area. In particular, the leases on lots rented by Sortavala Wood and Paper Holding, Ltd., were revoked in January 2015. Meaning that the old tenant’s lots were seized under the pretext of establishing a national park, but Karelian officials are now seizing the same lots on behalf of another investor.
The question of what areas should be excluded from the park has been decided behind closed doors, and at present there is no reliable information about what investors and what projects will be implemented in the area. However, according to sources close to the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources, it is primarily subsidiaries of Rosneft that have been discussed, which would explain both Hudilainen’s involvement in the problem and the unexpectedly loyal stance adopted by the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
No simple interest
Information about Rosneft’s interest in the area emerged in 2014, when the oil company and the government of Karelia signed a strategic partnership agreement. After meeting with Rosneft chair Igor Sechin, Hudilainen said the company had decided to build a large health center on the Ladoga shore. According to a source, the possible allocation of lots within the planned specially protected natural area had begun to be worked out as early as a year ago, but initially did not find support within the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
That the ministry agreed to amend the project, despite the fact the environmental impact review had already been completed, confirms that an investor with big lobbying capabilities has gone after the land, potentially allowing it not only to redraw the national park’s boundaries but also to transfer forest lands to another category, a decision that can be made only by the federal government. This turn of events is highly likely. It is worth remembering that, in the past, the current head of Karelia successfully sold off forest lands when he was head of the Gatchina District in Leningrad Region. His role came to light in the well-publicized investigation of the illegal seizure of lands in the Siversky Forest in 2005. However, the scale of the seizures there was considerably less.
According to Olga Ilyina from SPOK, free lots that were no worse in terms of recreation and unencumbered by restrictions on development could have been found on the Ladoga shore. There was no acute need to intrude on the protected area of the park, but the decision to intrude was made all the same, despite the inevitable complications. The option of taking out a long-term lease on the lands removed from the park simply would not justify the effort.
On the other hand, removing forest reserve status from these lots would turn them into extremely profitable assets, whose worth, according to rough estimates, could run into the tens of billions of rubles, if we take into account the going rate for land in the district. This sum, by the way, is comparable to the size of the Republic of Karelia’s annual budget, which was 29.3 billion rubles in 2015 [approx. 388 million euros].
It is unlikely that the deal would be a salvation for the Karelian budget, which has been shrinking because of the economic crisis. It is easier to imagine that the lots allocated for “socially significant projects” would be purchased with earmarked funds and for a tenth of their actual market value, if that much. But for Alexander Hudilainen, whose position deteriorated after he was reprimanded by the president in February, it could be more important to obtain the political dividends.
The Karelian authorities have to account for the investments they have attracted as part of a federal program for the targeted development of Karelia until 2020. Timed to coincide with the republic’s centennial in that same year, the program is now in jeopardy. So a single project with a nominal value of even several billion rubles might prove to be a salvation to Karelian officials.
Sabotaging the park
Whatever objectives the Karelian authorities have been pursuing via the intrigue into which they have drawn the Federal Ministry for Natural Resources, they have planted a bomb under all the plans for the Ladoga Skerries National Park.
Amending the project for the specially protected natural area after it has gone through an official environmental impact review makes it vulnerable in legal terms.
Practically speaking, there are now grounds for challenging the conclusions of that review as well as any regulations adopted on its basis, a challenge that could be mounted by an interested party. In current conditions, according to environmentalists, this could delay the establishment of the park by another two or three years. A second environmental impact review would require money that is not in the budget.
Over this time, the area of the future part could shrink even further, including at the expense of state reserve lands, which were supposed to be included in the specially protected natural area during the second phase of the project. (In the first phase, only lands from the forest and water reserves will be included in the park.) The Karelian government has virtually put these lots up for sale already, although it should have set them aside in order to establish the specially protected natural area. Thus, on a website entitled The Investor’s Republic of Karelia, there is a description of an investment project involving the sale of thirteen land plots, totaling 137.1 hectares, on the eastern half of Sammatsaari Island, for recreational purposes. This particular page is hidden in such a way that it is impossible to find on the site’s main menu.
This may mean that the sabotage of the national park has been planned deliberately, and then the damage would be not be limited to removing the above-mentioned 3,750 hectares from the park. Within two years, the Ladoga Skerries could be ripped to shreds. Or, on the contrary, has Alexander Hudilainen on his own initiative unwittingly provoked a classic conflict of priorities by essentially putting the interests of Rosneft above those of the head of state? This conflict might be resolved in the most unpredictable ways, including for the man who started it.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy ofGreenpeace Russia. Thanks to Comrades AK and SY, as always, for the heads-up. Thanks to Comrade EN for the geography lesson.